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When a worker sees an email from human resources, their stomach clenches. And if the employee sees an HR rep walk straight toward their desk, their heart skips a beat. It's easy to assume the worst: Did they say something offensive to a coworker without realizing it? Is their department downsizing?

Understandably, HR managers want to shed this stern stereotype. Instead of being seen as the admonishers, they want to be seen as trusted confidants. And, as it turns out, community managers at coworking spaces may be the inspiration HR needs. Similar to HR managers, community managers' main goal is to create an environment where people can do their best work: They connect coworkers who could be beneficial to one another. They cheer on successes and provide solace during setbacks. They listen to what coworkers want—and efficiently address the problems.

According to recent studies, community managers are doing quite well: People in coworking spaces rate their level of thriving at a six on a seven-point scale, according to the Harvard Business Review, and members say that they benefit most from interacting with people in those spaces and trading know how (all of which community managers facilitate). HR, on the other hand? A 2012 study found that fewer than 7 percent of employees believe HR is looking out for them.

Here, a few well-connected community managers share advice for HR on how to cultivate more positive, beneficial relationships with employees.

Show a Vested Interest

HR professionals most commonly approach workers at the beginning and end of their tenure, for onboarding and offboarding. But what if they were to approach their workers more regularly, and on less serious terms? According to Annelie Chavez, who has worked in HR and now handles community and partnerships at coworking space Camp David, it all comes down to relationships.

“Make sure you touch base with employees every so often. People aren't going to come to you," advises Chavez. "Have a quarterly or monthly [check-in] to make sure things are getting done—it's important to keep a pulse on the staff."

Diana McLaren, who worked as a community lead at Hub Australia in Sydney, offers similar advice. In McLaren's opinion, HR workers would do well to get to know their employees as people—she suggests asking about how employees' kids are doing, or checking in on their upcoming vacation plans. “There's nothing that will make people feel more cherished than remembering something they said in passing last week," she says. “You're showing a vested interest in them."

Move Around the Office

Another way of forming better relationships with employees? Try moving around the office.

Chavez sat in the front of her office as a secretary before being promoted to HR, and saw first-hand how her relationships with workers were more intimate and comfortable than some of her HR peers who hadn't come up from the trenches.

“It really has to do with how open HR people make themselves," Chavez says. “If you're an HR person sitting in the corner of an office, no one is going to come to you [at the onset of a problem]. They're only going to come at the breaking point."

Take Action

In addition to genuinely listening to your employees—including paying attention to their successes and struggles—it's important to take action to address their concerns.

“One thing that community managers do really well is come up with creative solutions that fix multiple problems at the same time," McLaren says. “Communities end up growing that way and people feel cherished and important. You're actually hearing them and getting rid of the problem for them. And that's a lot more reassuring than if the HR worker just tries to follow protocol and listen."

Make Connections Among Coworkers

One simple way HR can become a friendly resource? Adopt the proactive mindset of community managers when it comes to introducing employees to coworkers as mentors or peers with similar interests—in other words, focus on creating a literal "community." “People are not that complicated," says McLaren. "They want to feel a part of something, like their work matters."

Jamie Russo, executive director of the Global Workspace Association, suggests putting systems in place to facilitate skill swapping. “[You] have to go after it," Russo says. “I would advise HR people to spend time in a coworking space to see how it works." Overall, if building relationships and networking are a valued part of company culture, people will generally be more engaged at work—and more trusting of the HR team that facilitated those relationships.

Photo: Twenty20